Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Xu Bing's Universal Language

Every time I ride the bus in Shanghai I wonder how the driver is still alive or how the driver has managed not to kill everyone inside his bus. I try to stand by the front of the bus to watch them and see how they turn the wheel or what buttons and levers they press and pull. This week, as I was watching one driver press gently on the horn button as we took a sharp turn, I started thinking about how driving is universal. For one thing, cars are all built the same. Engine, gears, tires, etc... and most importantly there is very little that is written in any specific language on any part of a car. Aside from the brand, everything else that needs to be labeled or written on takes the shape of a symbol. 

Xu Bing's latest project is an attempt to create a universal language of symbols, all inspired by signs in airplanes. In an interview with MoMA, he explains the project by describing how power today exists in the form of economic or commercial power. He goes on to to say how this requires new kind of fast communication that easily facilitates quick transaction. He sees this period of time as a great opportunity to create a new kind of pictography.

After listening to this short interview, I was prompted to ask what kind of activities require such pictography. Driving, for one, but what else? Is there a future in which directions are all printed in symbols. Perhaps IKEA has the right idea...

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